Feminist Criticism In Games: Thank You, Anita Sarkeesian

Emily Ash

Emily celebrates the positive impact feminist game critic Anita Sarkeesian has had on her life.

A lot of negativity has been published about Anita Sarkeesian’s video essay series Tropes vs Women in Video Games (TvW); there was negativity at the time, and there’s still negativity now. So, I thought I’d take the time to explain what Sarkeesian’s series did for me, and why I am so grateful for her sacrifice. I want to add a drop of positivity to this discussion, no matter how small.

Picture this: It’s 2014; I’m fifteen years old. At this point I’m already scared of online gaming because female names and voices are targeted and treated… differently. There’s a part of me that wants to give up on gaming, even though enjoy it so much. I just feel so unwelcome, and as a teenager that stuff is really hard to shake.

The community sent her death threats, doxed her, and even sent her images of her being raped by video game characters.

YouTube is where I found my middle ground. I didn’t have to risk the online bit – the scary part where people could discover I’m a girl any minute and start calling me slut and whore when I messed up or did well- instead, I can just watch other people play! This then introduces me to video game community at large, especially channels like The Warp Zone and Nerdcubed.

In fact, it was a recommendation from a Nerdcubed video that led me to my first TvW video. The series’ thumbnails made no attempt to hide that they were presented by a woman- Anita Sarkeesian’s face was prominent and proud.

I immediately wanted to hear what she had to say, astonished at her bravery. Remember, at this point I thought women simply couldn’t exist in video game communities, but here she was to prove me wrong.

Even more surprising? Her videos openly criticised the medium’s blatantly misogynistic tropes: The damsel in distress, female characters presented as rewards to the player, the sexualisation and objectification of women throughout most mature games… Honestly, these were problems I found in most of my media, so I wasn’t shocked by the series’ content. What did shock me was seeing a woman unapologetically criticise video games with authority like she’d never doubted her place in the community.

Of course, I didn’t realise that the community had rejected her. The first TvW video has 47 thousand dislikes to 15 thousand likes. In response to Sarkeesian’s thoughtful critique of games she clearly loved, the community sent her death threats, doxed her, and even sent her images of her being raped by video game characters.

I truly recommend you watch her series, and decide if it even slightly deserves the rage it whipped up.

As Sarkeesian discusses how sticking mascara and earrings on a blob doesn’t make it a nuanced female character, remember that this content made some people so mad she was forced to cancel a talk at Utah State University in 2014 due to terrorist threats. At the same time I was trying to find my place within the video game community, a woman speaking up about games’ misogynistic tendencies was being threatened with violence near-constantly.

But I didn’t see all that till much later. I saw a woman loving gaming, and it made me realise that I had a place in gaming too. It made me determined to not let angry men take away what I loved, to not let fear ruin my enjoyment of the medium. I saw, as cliché as it is, that I was not alone.

I also learnt that the problem with games wasn’t me

I learnt hope and determination from Tropes vs Video Games, for sure, but I also learnt that the problem with games wasn’t me. I believed there was something wrong with how I was playing the games. When you’re constantly told that you aren’t allowed to enjoy something that you love, the only logical solution your brain reaches is that you are the anomaly.

But screw all that; here was another woman who enjoyed gaming enough to analyse it, and demand better from it. It wasn’t that I was wrong to like this stuff, it was that people weren’t comfortable with me liking it for some dumb reason.

Again, I repeat: Suddenly, the problem wasn’t me.

Anita Sarkeesian is braver than any man that will ever put up content that attempts to destroy her, and I will defend her until my dying breath. Is she perfect? Why must she be perfect to simply criticise video games?

Anita Sarkeesian saved me from abandoning the medium I now want to base my career on

Google Anita and the first video results are people trying desperately to disparage her. She’s blamed for ‘ruining’ every game release with a hint of a decent female characterisation since 2012. It doesn’t help that Sarkeesian was one of the strongest voices behind #GamerGate. (And if anyone says anything about ethics in journalism, I will come wail outside your house at 3am until you start making better choices.)

To explain #GamerGate briefly, a female-presenting game developer named Zoë Quinn published a beautiful text-focused game based on her experience with depression. Lots of people got mad about that, and Quinn’s ex-boyfriend made an awful blog post about how they’d slept with a journalist for a positive review.

The abuse directed at Quinn exploded, and any female voice that spoke up against it became targets of an organised harassment campaign that had less to do with ethics in journalism than misogyny and hatred. Anita Sarkeesian was one of these voices who spoke out, and thus became a very high profile target because of her previous feminist work.

But now I’m veering into negativity, and this article isn’t about that. This article is a thank you note to Anita Sarkeesian.

Anita Sarkeesian saved me from abandoning the medium I now want to base my career on. My dissertation this year is about video games. She made me re-evaluate things I’d just accepted as part of being a gamer; she challenged me to not just accept the status quo in this medium I so adore. She made fifteen-year-old me feel allowed to love video games, and let me ignore the men that still- to this day- try to force me out of this community.

Thank you, Anita Sarkeesian.

Emily Ash 

Featured image courtesy of Liks Digital on Unsplash

Image use licence here. No changes made to this image.

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2 Comments on this post.
  • Anonymous
    3 December 2020 at 21:23
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    I honestly find it very concerning that you want to base your entire career around video games because of Anita. Please read this comment fully with an open mind.

    What you fail to mention in this article is the hypocrisy and misinformation Anita spreads to support her narrative. Also the many contradictions in her arguments and how does not engage or debate with any of her critics, if anyone disagrees with her its considered harassment.

    She raised nearly $160,000 on Kickstarter for her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series to create a horribly researched, poorly argued, inconsistent, and outright dishonest video series, that used footage from Let’s Play channels on YouTube without giving them any credit whatsoever.

    She treats any and all criticisms towards her as harassment and hate speech, and blocks anyone who disagrees with her. To date, she has never entered a serious, public debate or discussion against those with opposing views, or anyone to challenge her stances. I don’t know about anyone else, but I would think that if she were serious about making cultural or political change, then she would be more than willing to actively engage with those who disagree her to not only better understand the opposition, but to ultimately test the strength of her convictions she so strongly holds, no?

    There is so many examples of her wrong doings but here are just a few I feel you would at least acknowledge. When the trailer for Doom 2016 (one of your favourite games of the decade Emily) was released at E3. Anita went straight to twitter to criticise the game for being too violent and said it was not right how the fans cheered / supported the depiction of violence on screen. What has that got to do with feminism?

    In GTA V and Hitman Absolution she recorded video footage of her killing strippers and prostitutes in game and claimed the games actively promoted violence against women. However, at no point in either of these games do you have to kill any female characters. Moreover, in Hitman, the game actually punishes the player for doing this by reducing a mass amount of points from the players score for not going for the target. (Also it was found out that it was not even her gameplay footage, she stole it from other youtubers online without permission… its like she does not even play the games she critics. Why would she need all that Kickstarter money for recording equipment when she does even record her own gameplay? she is such a scam artist)

    Recently, in the TV show the Mandalorian she criticised fan favourite strong female character Bo-Katan for having “boob armour” … seriously how low can you get.. If you look online there are many women who disagree with her and pointed out how she is overreacting about nothing. Yet she states all of her criticism comes from Men and does not acknowledge any of her female critics which I feel is even more disingenuous as she actively tries to represent all women’s voices.

    Finally I just want to show you two videos https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Afgtd8ZsXzI&ab_channel=RicanGamerr

    (Anita admitting in 2010 she does not play videogames and has no interest in them, showing that she has lied all this time about her life long interest)

    secondly a female indie game developer speaking out against Anita (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ee8RgbS9ESE&ab_channel=LadyGameDeveloper)

    I hope if anything this comment at least makes you question Anita’s motives… its admirable how you feel passionately about feminism in videogames but I do not feel Anita genuinely shares your enthusiasm. I get the impression she is only doing what she does out of self interest.

    Please think twice about writing an entire dissertation supporting Anita Sarkeesians viewpoints… if you do any sort of research into them, hardly any actually stand up to criticism. I would feel bad and sorry for you if you went to that much time and effort on your final year of university. Hopefully your supervisor will suggest a better topic for your dissertation.

  • John Moore
    30 May 2021 at 15:48
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    Anita Sarkeesian has gotten uneeded flak from those who have issues with feminists and those just generally supportive of women’s rights. One of these critics is Scott Cameron of Arlington, WA who wrote the poorly-received ebook “Understanding #Gamergate.” She and other women’s rights activists deserve recognition for their fight for equality and dignity. We should support her.

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